The music industry has turned upside down in the last fifteen years. For a very long time, music on the radio, DJ’s and vinyl records, cassettes or CD’s ruled the industry, but then along came the internet and everything changed.
A recent online article by Jason Hirschhorn outlined the significant changes in the music industry. A link to the full article is provided at the end of this post. Some of the highlights Jason mentions are: (Keep in mind that Napster started in 1999, ceased operations in 2001 and iTunes started in 2001)
- Since 1999, adjusting for inflation, revenues for recorded music declined 70%.
- Since 1999, live concert revenues are up close to 200%.
- In 2000, the top one hundred artists accounted for 90% of all concert revenues.
- Today, the top 100 artists account for just 44% of all concert revenues, showing greater depth in the live performance music industry.
If you think Amazon has been damaging to Christian retail stores, you might be right, but it was the loss of music sales that delivered one of the first body shots to the Christian retail segment about 15 years ago. Music accounted for a major piece of Christian retail sales. A second crippling hit was the movement of video from physical to digital media. Then, along came massive online sales of books and bookstores needed to rethink their entire business model. Some did not have the resources to do so and are now gone.
Nothing seems to be the same as before.
There are undeniable differences between music and books. Music requires a small commitment from its user whereas books require significant time commitment. Music can be “background” whereas books require full attention of the user. An average music listener will experience hundreds of songs in a year via all media, but an average book reader might read only a half-dozen books in a year.
But there are similarities between music artists and book authors that can be instructive.
Just as music artists now earn the majority of their income in live performances, authors must be engaging directly with readers as well in order to succeed.
Musicians are earning more money live-performing than recording. Not many years ago, concert tours fueled more album sales, now that is reversed and recorded music distributed through various methods create interest in live performances, where the real money is.
A low income activity fueling higher income activity.
For musicians in general (not just the top superstars), radio, Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, YouTube videos, etc. all primarily generate interest needed for a successful live tour. Recorded music has become more about marketing than income.
For book authors, the same principle applies as non-income generating activity fuels income-generating activity. Social media and personal appearances/live interaction generate the interest in buying their book.
The necessity of having both elements working together is how music and books are similar. The common thread is if you are not “performing,” you make little or no money.
Not long ago, there was a category of studio musician, providing the extra instrumentation or background vocals needed to make a recording great. The revenue center of the universe was the recording.
Now, those people are still needed, but they also need to tour with the singer or group. They need to perform live. If you don’t enjoy performing in front of people, then you will have difficulty making a living as a musician. The out-of-sight studio musician or group (“studio band”) has become almost extinct.
In the same way, out-of-sight authors who wrote a book and slipped it under the door of their writing room to a waiting editor and publisher are growing extinct as well.
Authors need to be out in public performing. What has been called the author platform is really “authors performing in public.”
So how does an author perform? (other than writing a book)
Responding (to reader communications)
This is what you do in your unique and personalized author platform, the home base of activities, which allow you to connect in a personal way with a large (hopefully) group of people.
Author Platform: Non income-generating activity that fuels the income-generating activity.
Authoring in the 21st Century requires an added role of public performer. If you would rather not, then it is probably an indicator that you should use your writing ability to help others create their work because dancing authors are now a requirement.
To read the full article by Jason Hirschhorn on the music industry, click here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/less-money-mo-music-lots-problems-look-biz-jason-hirschhorn
Thanks for such a great post! Could you explain simplifying as far as platform?
It relates to what you communicate. An author might make complicated matters easy to understand. All the “ing” activities mentioned relate to what your message is as an author.
Platform is a message, not Facebook. Platform is an approach to communication, not Twitter.
I really like how you framed the idea of platform. And this: “Author Platform: Non income-generating activity that fuels the income-generating activity.”—this helped me to see building a platform with a slightly different, easier-to-grasp perspective. Yes, it’s a given that if I want to one day be published, I need to be interacting with people now. I need to be willing to put myself out there and be relational. Which is part of the reason I started a blog. But, I’m finding that when I interact with others, it’s enjoyable, not tedious.
Now, to continue to shift my mindset to remember that this aspect of my writing journey is important and worth the time it requires.
I’ve been fascinated with the change in the music industry. Of course, as a listener, I LIKE the ability to download a single song the moment I want it. Remember waiting for an ALBUM to release?
You’ve drawn valid correlations between the life of the writer and the life of a singer/songwriter. And it sort of makes sense. After all, we’re all artists.
Thanks for the great information (as always). God bless ya!
Great post, Dan! You truly captured the new reality that authors are facing. And thanks for that list of “ings.” It helps de-mystify the big, scary concept of “platform.”
Love the “ing” list. Makes me think of outside-of-the-box ways of building a platform.
Remember those heady days when you used to see, gasp, a book commercial on TV ? I remember coming back from Vietnam and my little brother had a brand new Led Zeppelin album on something else new, an 8 track cartridge. Remember “fan clubs”? They sound eerily similar to todays “author platform”.
The point is, out of sight, out of mind applies so very much today. As a reader and buyer of books I need some reason, any kind of reason, to be interested either in the author or the subject of their work. Short of mass media marketing which today is largely considered “too expensive” little more is really left other than press releases, social media and personal appearances, AKA author platform. The cost, effort and results are made the responsibility of the author. In my opinion, this is essential to the business model employed by many traditional media companies. Turn, churn and burn new titles, authors, performers, actors etc. at high velocity for maximum profit while maintaining lowest production cost. Hence, so many “one hit wonders” AKA “one and done”.
Same thing is the new norm in much of industry. Replace the higher paid long term worker with fresh new energetic upstarts (many times from another country) that will work for little more than nothing. For decades the mantra of the door to door vacuum cleaner sales industry pertaining to their sales personnel was “hire in masses, give them classes, kick their a____”. After they sold a vacuum to grandma, mom and dad and maybe aunt Millie they were let go. They were turned, burned and churned. The industry moved merrily on while they were discarded, left in a burning heap at the side of the road. Soon forgotten.
Today’s alternative is to grow organically, one reader at a time. An author seeking “converts”, growing a base. This is too slow for big business and I suspect traditional publishing as well but it is rock solid if you are indeed a worthwhile writer. Costs can, at least to some degree, be rectified to harmonize with sales. Eventually you will build a following even though it may not be “Elmer Gantry” style. Low quality will tell, high quality will sell.
A little tongue in cheek here, the day might even come when highly seasoned professionals like Steve Laube and company may offer consultation services on a variety of subjects a la carte direct to authors. When ( or if) that day comes there will be absolutely no reason that an author produced book would be any less quality or look, feel, read or sell any differently than a traditionally published book. Just sayin.
Dan, as usual a great post. In the spirit of Chicago from which you hail a bluesy tune that kinda sums it up.
I know it is expensive, but I think more authors should go to writers’ conferences. Agents from most agencies are there to give advice and answer questions. It can make the publishing journey a lot less mystifying.
Not free, but valuable.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Dan, Strong music/words analogy and insight. As for conferences–not free, but valuable, indeed! And at my first conference, earlier this year, of equal value to the publishing nitty gritty was the powerful challenge to maintain spiritual integrity by giving my best then trusting God for the outcome. It has certainly helped keep the waiting peaceably piece in perspective!
Dan, I have attended a number of conferences and workshops.
A. On the one hand, from a technical learning standpoint I found them to be of little value to me. I suffered through mundane classes where the conductor put out what they wanted to tell, not what I needed to learn.
B. On the other hand, for me, I found them to highly valuable from a human experience social interface standpoint. Face time, networking, exchanging of ideas with attendees, interesting people with great stories to tell. Solidarity in the struggle. Camaraderie. For me, this is where the real value lies. In my opinion you just can’t teach heart, insight, courage, instinct, depth, love, struggle and so on to an individual in a class. They best learn these things through real life. Everyone has a testimony. This is the true stuff of powerful story.
For me, asking technical questions regarding the industry on the fly in darkened hallways or in a very narrow time slot that urges you to speak as fast as the disclaimer at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial isn’t fulfilling, satisfying or worthwhile. I would much rather pay a highly competent person a fair consulting fee for their undivided attention and, without reservation, obtain full benefit of their experience. Now, rather than getting a lot of generality, I would be getting specific answers to MY specific questions that would help ME. This would likely be a rewarding experience for all parties concerned.
This is just my humble opinion. Although I usually highly consider the cost/benefit ratio in everything I do I have rarely permitted cost to be an obstacle in the pursuit of excellence. I feel there may be others that feel the same way I do. Possibly we all march to a different drum.
Dan, thanks for an insightful post. I especially appreciated the list of how authors preform. Bravo!
This is my third reading of this over10 days of pondering and getting my words for thoughts.
Platform has been a little less than agony for me because what I thought my qualifications were did not fit the definition. But with this explanation my platform just needs writing out what I believe will work. Rewriting.
When I started writing out this work/project it was both a struggle to find a way to touch and love G-d more but was also something else.
The pain/trauma/ difficulties and trouble that disconnected me from where I was in life at that point started the defining of who am I and what do I do, what do I know and what do I have to contribute.
In the life before I was constantly helping others in their ministry. Now it was who am I in ministry, where did I come from, and what do I have to say, and how do I say that.
And so at old age I consolidated my life into whatever I am and whatever I do. So my project is different, and I think fresh. Publishing and the speaking is an extension of what I do on a small scale every day.
You blog has given me an extended confidence. And has given me extended words.
I am grateful. You are my conference that I could not go to and needed something undefined. Thank you.